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Men’s Basketball

Brey says Irish not done after 90-80 win over Demon Deacons

| Wednesday, January 29, 2020

It doesn’t appear to matter who Notre Dame plays. No matter the quality of opponent, the Irish (12-8, 3-6 ACC) will play them close. Whether it’s the No. 5 Florida State on the road, or hosting ACC bottom feeder Wake Forest, Notre Dame is bound to find themselves in a tight final few minutes. That was again the case Wednesday. The Irish trailed by five at halftime, and, even after establishing a large lead, they had to fend off several pushes from the Demon Deacons (9-11, 2-8 ACC) before finally holding on for a 90-80 victory.

Notre Dame entered Wednesday’s home game against Wake Forest at 2-6 in ACC games, but the Irish still harbor hopes of making a run towards an NCAA tournament berth. With a favorable slate of games ahead of them, it has become absolutely pivotal that the Irish win the games they’re supposed to. Hosting the cellar-dwelling Demon Deacons qualified as one of those games, as the Irish tipped off a three-game home stand at Purcell Pavilion. 

Throughout the first half, the Irish played down to their competition. Notre Dame looked sloppy in the early going, allowing the visitors to build a 9-2 lead in the first four minutes. During the stretch, the Irish went 0-5 for the field and committed multiple turnovers. After the game, head coach Mike Brey commented on his team’s early struggles.

“They are a good, very athletic team, and we struggled with that in the early going,” he said. 

Substitute sophomore forward Nate Laszewski slammed home a dunk to break the drought for Notre Dame, but the tone was set, as the Irish would play from behind throughout the entire first half. Notre Dame shot better throughout the rest of the first half, with a three-ball from senior guard T.J. Gibbs bringing the Irish ahead with one point at 27-26 with 7:10 to play in the first half.

Nathanial George | The Observer

Notre Dame sophomore guard Dane Goodwin shoots a mid-range jumper over a defender in a game against Syracuse on January 22 at Purcell Pavilion

Although the Demon Deacons never pulled away, consistent shooting from senior Brandon Childress, sophomore Isaiah Mucius and junior Olivier Sarr gave Wake Forest the edge. The Irish pulled within a single point on three different occasions in the half, the last with 4:40 to play as sophomore guard Dane Goodwin drained a jumper to close the gap to 31-30. But Childress put the Demon Deacons on his back for the remainder of the half, scoring eight of their final 10 points to keep the Irish at bay. His layup with four seconds left sent the visitors to the locker room up 41-36.

After demonstrating a complete inability to go on a run in the first half, the Irish finally put together consistent stretches of dominant basketball after returning from the locker room. Over the first nine minutes of the half, Notre Dame outscored their counterparts 24-10. With 16:32 to go in the game, graduate student guard Rex Pflueger, normally a defensive stalwart, came up with a clutch shot, burying a three to hand Notre Dame a 46-45 advantage. Minutes later, Goodwin made another long range shot to push the advantage to eight points. From there, the Irish led for the rest of the game, but the victory was not stress-free.

Despite a sophomore-laden roster, the Irish leaned on their seniors to help their young squad pull out the crucial win. Forward John Mooney did Mooney things, notching 19 points while cleaning the glass to the tune of 13 rebounds, leading the Irish to 18 second-chance points.

“He started a little slow, but he hung in there, and he really was a man for us on the boards,” Brey said of Mooney.

Meanwhile Gibbs elevated his game to another level, hitting several clutch shots to help the Irish survive down the stretch.

“He’s a fearless young man right now. Any time they threatened, it was a T.J. Gibbs play,” Brey said of his senior guard. 

The first of Gibbs’ big threes came with under 10 minutes to play, when, after a huge three drew Wake Forest within 63-56, Gibbs took the ball and pulled up for a deep three and swished it, restoring Notre Dame’s 10-point advantage. With precisely five minutes on the clock, Gibbs did the same thing, nullifying a Wake Forest triple with a long-range bomb of his own, drilling a 25-footer with ease.

The Demon Deacons closed within 77-74 and 80-76, but first it was Laszewski draining a trey, and then Gibbs converting an old-fashioned 3-point play — dropping in a layup and converting the ensuing free throw — to keep Notre Dame’s advantage slightly more comfortable. Wake Forest never seriously threatened in the final minute and a half of play.

Wake Forest was paced throughout the game by Childress (24 points) and Sarr (18 points). Mucius finished with 13 points off the bench.

Notre Dame got 23 points from Gibbs — 15 in the second half — and another double-double from Mooney. Laszewski was 3-5 from long range on his way to 18 points as a substitute, while Goodwin chipped in 14 points. Sophomore Prentiss Hubb was kept quiet on the whole, but he still hit a few key shots in the second half. Brey complimented the trio of sophomores after the game, citing Laszewski’s breakthrough as a potential pivot point for his team.

“Between Nate, Dane and Hubb, if we get those three guys going together from night to night, we’re going to make this really interesting down the stretch,” Brey said. “Stay tuned.”

As a team, the Irish shot 22-25 from the free throw line, as they locked down the game at the charity stripe in the final minutes.

“We needed that one,” Brey said. “We love one-game winning streaks. Let’s get another one-game winning streak on Saturday.”

Notre Dame will host Georgia Tech on Saturday at Purcell Pavilion with a 12 p.m. tip-off.

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